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  • Melinda Mills

Polygenic scores for Plasticity: A new tool for studying gene-environment interplay


New work recently published in the journal Demography, by our LCDS and Nuffield College Postdoctoral Prize Research Fellow in Sociology, Ramina Sotoudeh.


In this work, Rebecca Johnson, Ramina Sotoudeh, and Dalton Conley develop a new method for summarizing genetic effects, called a variation Polygenic Score or vPGS.

While traditional polygenic scores (PGSs) reflect the influence of genetics on levels of an outcome, vPGSs focus instead on summarizing genetic contributions to plasticity, or variance, in outcomes. vPGS are particularly suited for modeling and understanding gene by environment (G×E) interactions, since they uniquely capture individuals’ responsiveness to environmental change. The paper uses the UK Biobank, a biobank with over 400,000 UK-based respondents, and the Health and Retirement Study, a dataset with over 5,700 US Americans surveyed multiple times over their life-course, to compare four approaches to constructing vPGSs.


The paper also outlines best practices for constructing vPGSs and compares four different approaches for constructing them. Then, using the vPGSs that do capture distinctive genetic contributions to plasticity, it examines the effects of an UK education reform on the health and educational attainment of individuals. The paper finds that the efficacy of this reform depended crucially on the genetic plasticity of those impacted.

Overall, the results show the properties of a useful new tool for population scientists studying the interplay of nature and nurture.

Figure (above) shows interaction between HLMM PGS for plasticity and post-reform on educational outcomes.


Read the full study here.


Full citation: Johnson, R., R. Sotoudeh & D. Conley. (2022). Polygenic Scores for Plasticity: A New Tool for Studying Gene–Environment Interplay, Demography, https://doi.org/10.1215/00703370-9957418

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